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Republicans interview key witnesses as Biden accused of hiding Afghanistan withdrawal docs

By Elizabeth Delaney
|
May 16, 2023

New witnesses with "critical" insider information about the Afghanistan withdrawal are being called forth to speak with the House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans and have their interviews transcribed as the investigation into the Biden administration's handling of the deadly departure from that area continues to intensify.

Five former State Department officials are being called forth to testify by Chairman Michael McCual (TX-10). He said the officials have "important information that is critical" to discovering "how and why" the August 2021 withdrawal was such a disaster, according to Daily Mail.

Officials Currently Being Called Forth to Testify

The five officials McCual called out include Jonathan Mennuti, former acting chief of staff to acting secretary of state for management Carol Perez; Mark Evans, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Afghanistan; James DeHart, former leader of the Afghanistan Task Force; Jayne Howell, of the Bureau of Consular Affairs; and former Ambassador Daniel Smith, according to NY Breaking.

“It is critical that they speak to the committee without delay,” said McCaul on Monday.

McCaul is also working on putting together a committee that will issue a "contempt of Congress" charge against Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has neglected to provide a key document connected to the August withdrawal. The charge may be issued as soon as May 24, according to Daily Mail.

The document issued a warning about a "deteriorating security situation," which Republicans say the Biden administration didn't address.

Biden's Unconditional Withdrawal Led to Disaster

President Joe Biden first announced the withdrawal on April 14, 2021. It was an unconditional withdrawal, and included the removal of all U.S. military personnel from Afghanistan, according to a Foreign Affairs Committee press release.

The press release also notes that, "The Biden Administration failed to conduct essential planning and take critical actions necessary to mitigate the likely adverse consequences of the decision to unconditionally withdraw.

President Biden and other senior Administration leaders proceeded with the withdrawal in a manner inconsistent with the recommendations of military leaders and the warnings of diplomatic personnel."

A Deadly Chain of Events

There was a deadly chain of events that started at the beginning of August in 2021 with the Taliban capturing "numerous Afghan provincial capitals," according to a Foreign Affairs Committee press release.

Then on August 14, 2021, the U.S. Embassy to Afghanistan Charg d'Affaires Ross Wilson "declared a non-combatant evacuation (NEO) from the country."

That situation was followed by 13 U.S. service members being murdered and 45 injured in a terrorist attack outside Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzail International Airport, and included the death of 170 Afghans on August 26, 2021.

Finally, on August 30, 2021at the conclusion of the NEO, "hundreds of Americans and tens of thousands [of] Afghan allies who risked their lives to support the United States remained left behind in Afghanistan," according to a Foreign Affairs Committee press release.

Servicemembers Involved with the NEO Asked to Testify

There are several servicemembers who were involved with the NEO and who were on the scene as the withdrawal was taking place who have already spoken with the Foreign Affairs Committee about the August withdrawal.

"I opened my eyes to Marines dead or unconscious lying around me. … My body was overwhelmed from the trauma of the blast. My abdomen had been ripped open, every inch of my exposed body except for my face took ball bearings and shrapnel," said Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, 25, according to NBC News.

He went on to state that, "Our military members and veterans deserve our best because that is what we give to America. The withdrawal was a catastrophe in my opinion, and there was an inexcusable lack of accountability and negligence. The 11 Marines, one sailor and one soldier that were murdered that day have not been answered for."

Army medic and Specialist Aidan Gunderson who responded to the attack, testified, "I want America to know the truth. The Afghanistan withdrawal was an organizational failure at multiple levels."

He asked the committee to "please consider those 13 [killed in the terrorist attack at Abbey Gate] and me, as you conduct this investigation. Please consider the youth of America who continue to serve and never put them in that position again."  According to the Foreign Affairs Committee.